Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Let May Sprout Leaders!

In a few weeks, we could have an active Constitutional Convention (ConCon), or not. All we know for the moment is that we have many shadow puppets -- Senate President Therese Murray, Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi and the armies of the Dark Side.

Perhaps most fascinating is that Murray, Patrick and DiMasi are all strongly for defeating the anti-marriage-equality amendment, but seem far too cautious about getting the result. An optimist might hope that they are all working so hard behind the curtain that they will get the eight or nine necessary votes to reduce the ConCon vote to send the amendment on below the one-fourth threshold of 50 of 200.

Clearly, the MassEquality and other forces trying to keep discrimination out of our constitution do not count on that. In their effort, it must be disheartening to hear Murray first say that she will avoid such procedural moves as her predecessor used to advance the amendment last time, while killing the health-care one. Then she says shortly afterward that she won't twist any arms to defeat the amendment.

What the devil does that mean? She surely knows that she is the commonwealth's designated number one arm twister. She's supposed to make sure the good stuff gets done and the bad stuff does not.

So is that her way of saying we won't see any arm twisting nor hear the agonies of those being convinced? Alternately, has she had a failure of will and wit in her elevated position? The answer to that may be the key ConCon question and frame politics here for the next year and one-half.

Getting to Fair

We have avoided commenting on the Chris Orchard piece in Bay Windows that justifies the legislature avoiding a vote on the issue at the ConCon, thus killing it. It is an elegantly nitpicking view, one likely to change fewer than one mind.

We have trotted up and down this trail, probably most meaningfully last December. When the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it could not force a vote on a ballot initiative, the informal and non-binding portion of the decision took on the formal and binding role. Then Senate President Bobby Travaglini decided that the mention that it appears as though the intention of Article 48 of the state constitution reads that the ConCon is supposed to vote on all such initiatives. Again, the SJC decision did not mandate this and did not make it part of the formal ruling. In addition, they said they had no power to force it anyway.

The collateral damage, however, was that the most timid quarter of the legislature has used this as an excuse to avoid votes of conscience.

When legislators and executive-branch shots follow the will of their constituents, inertia rules. Everyone sits in the soiled political diaper, motionless, or heads pell-mell wherever the mob wants to go.

That is the true failure of democracy, when the elected leaders won't, don't and can't lead. It is what comes from the most intellectually and morally impoverished politicians. They invariable hide behind some argument to the effect of they are doing what their voters would want, thus servicing their public.

Of course, in contrast, their real job in a representative democracy is to stay a little ahead of the voters, to point where we should be going. When they find reasons and excuses why the status quo is the best and only state, we would have been better to put an oak tree in the office.

The fact is that change is often scary or at least distracting. Almost all of us like to stay with what we know, because, well, we know it and are comfortable with it. Unfortunately, with comfort often comes stagnation and anti-progressive politics that do nothing to better the bulk of us. It is shameful laziness and avoidance.

Risking Leadership

My model for the superior behavior by a legislator remains U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. During the Vietnam War era, he represented a very conservative district that favored involvement in that failed policy, while he opposed it. He voted to end our involvement and save American lives. He led his state and the rest of the nation with early and continuing oration against the unwinnable war. His voters continued to send him back to the Senate, disagreeing with his votes but apparently trusting his leadership and conscience.

Here on the effort to put an amendment stripping homosexuals of their existing right to marry, we have seen many legislators who fail the leadership test. Social conservatives, Democrat as well as Republican, raise the flimsy shield of their average voter. That does not protect them from history or fairness or honor or equality.

It appears that many of the 50 to 60 of the 200 General Court members who would put this amendment before the voters lack both the ability and will to provide leadership. With the polls running solidly in favor of retaining same-sex marriage, they have to know that even with a large, disruptive, distracting influx of out-of-state money and campaigners, the amendment is doomed at the ballot.

We can only conclude that they are betting that supporting putting it to a vote will help them stay in office. That would be the basest form of cynicism.

Perhaps the cowardly 50 or 60 should not stand apart for their base humanity. Their failures are those that many of us share. We want the easy and popular. On the other hand, we elected them to represent us, to be more than ordinary, at least when acting in their offices.

Perhaps one or two more times, if you are in the district of a waffling legislator or one who would vote the status quo and subject us to this torturous and mean-spirited path, you can have some words. Call, write or visit. Say you expect leadership.

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